Given its status as a widespread disease and major concern for medical foundations across the globe, it should come as no surprise that HIV treatment and detection have come a long way since their inception. Over time, new methodologies have emerged to highlight improvements across a number of HIV testing metrics: speed, reliability, accuracy, and applicability have all increased as new generations of HIV testing emerge.
What does this have to do with you? Plenty! Doctors and healthcare professionals everywhere increasingly encourage routine HIV testing as a means of ensuring personal health and addressing the spread of HIV. Remember, HIV can survive in its host without obvious symptoms for long periods of time. Seeking this at a trusted facility not only protects your future health, but also that of your loved ones and intimate partners.
No matter which test you take, it’s mandatory to follow up a positive result with alternative tests-this drastically reduces the chance of a fluke in the test. You should also know that many of the home HIV testing kits on the market haven’t received FDA approval and are rife with inaccuracy. With that in mind, here are some details on various professional HIV testing options that are available to you:
These are the most common HIV testing procedures for routine screening. They take advantage of the fact that your body naturally produces anti-infection proteins called antibodies in response to HIV infection. This method detects antibodies from a blood, saliva, or urine sample. Usually an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is the preferred antibody test due to its high sensitivity.
There are a few important considerations with antibody tests. Because the body takes time to develop antibodies, there is a “window period” during which HIV-positive individuals may receive false negative results because they tested too early. For this reason, this method of HIV testing is recommended three months after potential exposure. If an HIV-positive mother has a child, their antibodies will be passed on and retained in the baby’s body for up to 18 months; other tests are recommended in this case. Similarly, people who have participated in HIV vaccine trials should take multiple tests to minimize the chance of false results.
Rapid HIV Tests
These operate on the same principles as antibody tests with much quicker turnaround. They take less than an hour and often require no follow-up visit; all the analysis is done on-site by healthcare professionals. They are easier for medical staff to conduct and minimally invasive for the patient. These are suited to urgent medical situations or areas where clients are unlikely to return to check on their results.
These tests seek substances from the HIV virus itself, called antigens. Specifically, they seek the P24 protein produced in the early stages of HIV infection. This variety of testing isn’t very sensitive and isn’t particularly recommended by itself. Instead, doctors administer hybrid HIV testing by combining antigen tests with standard antibody tests to improve accuracy while reducing the “window period.” Called fourth-generation tests, these new trends in this testing will show up with more frequency as medical technology continues to advance.
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests also detect HIV infection early by testing for the genetic material of the virus. Also known as the viral load test or nucleic acid amplification testing (NAAT), PCR HIV testing is suited for screening blood supplies or newborns and is effective within two or three weeks of initial infection. Due to the expense and expert analytical skills required, they are not often used for individual HIV testing.